Darkhorse MVP Candidates For the 2017-18 NBA Season

We’re one week into the season, and predictions that were made before are already shattered. Gordon Hayward is likely out for the season, seemingly dashing any hopes the Celtics had of upsetting the Cavaliers. Jeremy Lin’s injury has dashed any hopes Nets fans had of a playoff reappearance. Markelle Fultz has seen a drastic cut in minutes, possibly shattering the hopes of him winning rookie of the year. That’s why I decided to wait until week two to really get talking about who could be the 2017-18 NBA Most Valuable Player.

When it comes to this year’s MVP race, the usual names are going to be at the forefront of the conversation. Obviously Russell Westbrook is being talked about, as he’s the defending champion for the award. Kevin Durant and Steph Curry have both been dominant in recent years and could be considered favorites as well. A quick breakdown from My Top Sportsbooks details who they have as the two favorites for the award:

If the NBA MVP award was called “the best basketball player in the world” award, LeBron James would win every year. Instead, it’s supposed to go to the player who is most integral to his team’s success, which is a more debatable and nebulous topic. When you’re surrounded by other great players, like LeBron has been for much of his career, it’s harder to win MVP. But that’s precisely why James is one of the favorites this year. No longer will Kyrie Irving steal some of the Cleveland spotlight, and with Isaiah Thomas out for an extended period, almost all of the Cavalier offense is going to run through James, just like you saw in game one versus the Celtics (29 points, 16 rebounds, 9 assists). We have James at 6/1 to win MVP, trailing only San Antonio’s Kawhi Leonard (11/2).

Basically, LeBron could/should be considered one of the favorites every year he’s in the league. It’s probably going to be that way until King James either hangs up his headband or plays into a Jordan-on-the-Wizards phase. And Kawhi totally makes sense. Best player on the best team that isn’t going to be regarded as a “super team.” In fact, both our writers featured in our predictions article had Leonard as their MVP picks. But that isn’t nearly as fun to talk about as some of the guys on the fringes who could be top contenders. So I’ve taken it on as my mission to pick three of the top guys who more people should definitely be talking about as legitimate contenders.

Blake Griffin

Vegas Insider has the over/under for the number of games Griffin will play at 68.5. If he’s hurt enough that he’s under that number he has zero chance of winning this award, and honestly that health concern is the biggest thing working against him. Now that Chris Paul is out of the picture, we’re going to see a lot more of point-Blake this season. If he ups his assist numbers to match the scoring and rebounding prowess that we’ve seen, the stat sheet alone can make a big case for his candidacy. Throw in the potential for the narrative of the Clippers overachieving after losing their best player, and you’ve got a Hollywood story for Blake.

He’s been given odds of anywhere from 20:1 to 80:1. If you can find someone to take those 80:1 odds, I’d jump all over that bet.

John Wall

ESPN’s infographic predicting the MVP had John Wall listed as a guy who fits a whole bunch of potential categories an MVP winner should fall within. Like the other guys listed here, he’s a superstar-level player on a team without other superstars. The East is weak this year, meaning Wall could lead his team to a top-3 finish within the conference, while also putting up a respectable win total (you basically need to average a triple double to be MVP with less than 50 wins). Wall can fill up the stat sheet in both points and assists. With an improving Wizards team, and a weakening conference, Wall doesn’t feel like all that dark of a dark horse.

Jimmy Butler

This may be my favorite of the potential dark horse choices. Butler has been listed as low as 100:1. That seems like a joke to me and the guys at Sports Illustrated agree:

Jimmy Butler has been phenomenal for two straight years now. He was lost in the dregs of a crumbling Bulls team, but individually he was as dominant as almost anyone. Now he has help. Karl-Anthony TownsAndrew Wiggins, and Jeff Teague are better than any Bulls teammate Butler’s had since 2014 and Thibs will probably play Butler 47 minutes-a-game as the centerpiece.

Butler has improved on the offensive end each year, and he’s one of the few wing defenders who can shut down the likes of LeBron, KD, and other top scorers. There’s a legitimate argument to be made that Butler is the best two-way player in the game, and being back with the coach who jump-started the whole thing is only going to help that potential continue to ooze out.

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